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Domestic violence affects a staggering number of individuals annually. According to a leading non-profit abuse program, 1 in 4 women will become victims of abuse in relationships, and men are also victims of at least 3 million physical assaults in the home (Safe Horizon). Not only do these instances of abuse leave behind many physical and emotional scars, but they also seriously impact children in the home, and domestic violence is a leading contributor to homelessness, substance abuse, and other problems. Abuse consists of patterns of behavior against the victim that inflict pain and seek to control him or her.

While many victims of domestic abuse have stated that the one who hurt them was once loving or they never believed he or she was capable of being an abuser, in most cases there are red flags that we should all be aware of to prevent ourselves or the ones we love from becoming victimized. Here are five key warning signs of abusive behavior to protect yourself from.

Controlling behavior.

If your partner seems obsessed with checking up on you to see where you’ve been, to know who you’re with at all times, and even goes so far as to read through your phone or check the mileage on your car, you should be concerned. An abuser will often become very jealous upon seeing you talk to members of the opposite sex or others they might suspect you could have a relationship with. An abuser may try to limit your interactions with friends or family, make you feel guilty about being away from them, or check in on you frequently while you are away (or gets angry with you for no responding as quick or often as they would like). You should carefully monitor this situation because your partner’s love or concern shouldn’t feel more like a prison than a partnership.

Making excuses.

If your partner has a pattern of lashing out at you, then making excuses for their behavior, this could be a red flag. An abuser has difficulty taking responsibility for their own actions and will often blame their temper, drugs or alcohol, or even you for what they say or do. Be especially concerned if you are also told that he or she wouldn’t have to do these things if only you didn’t behave a certain way!

Frightening behavior.

If your partner engages in risky behavior, seemingly to scare you or show you that they are in control, such as driving too fast and refusing to slow down when you ask, consider that troubling. Sings of abuse in this category also include harming (even killing) pets, pressuring you to have sex, throwing objects at you, or making you feel so controlled and intimidated that you are afraid to speak up in an argument or act in certain ways for fear of setting them off. Feeling as though you are walking on egg shells on a consistent basis is not a sign of a healthy relationship!

Making threats.

If your significant other makes statements about what they would do to you or themselves if you ever broke up with them (e.g. harming or even killing you or themselves), this is a definite sign of instability. Similarly, an abuser might make statements to the effect that their love for you would change or they may have to act out on you in a certain way based on things you do (e.g. “if you change your appearance I won’t love you as much” or “I will leave you if you don’t do what I say.” It’s all about putting you in your place and controlling your behavior to suit their needs, not the give-and-take one finds in a stable relationship.

Put you down.

In a continued attempt to make you feel dependent on him or her, an abuser will try to make you feel as though you are incapable of doing any better, that you’re lucky he or she loves you, and that you are flawed. The abuser may be overly critical of you, belittle, or humiliate you.

Remember we all make mistakes, but your partner shouldn’t be overly harsh when you do something wrong, and no one has the right to beat you down with their words until you feel insignificant or terribly self-conscious! We can all have bad days and say things we don’t mean, but if your partner crosses the line with their words and does so on a regular basis, this is consistent with abuse.

Do you recognize any of these traits in your partner? If so, share your concerns with a friend, call a local abuse organization, or document the instances to help yourself recognize if the behavior is a regular feature of the relationship. Don’t wait to get help before it’s too late! These behaviors are very deeply-rooted into an abuser’s personality, so it’s unlikely that they can be changed without professional help and his or her commitment to change.

It is very difficult to leave a relationship you are deeply-invested in, but you deserve better than to take any form of abuse from another, and you have to consider the safety of yourself and children! Remember that your children witness everything that goes on in the home, so they are learning how to be in a relationship, treat a spouse, and control emotions based on the examples of their parents; therefore, it is in their best interest to remove them from conflict, examples of abuse, and other bad influences that may cause them permanent damage or put them at risk for abuse.

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